Rich Heinsman doesn’t mind people calling him “the ponytail lawyer,” as long as they know his name.
A local criminal defense attorney, Heinsman, 47, has been wearing his hair shoulder length or longer for the better part of the last 19 years. He typically wears it in a ponytail while working.
“I’ve got no clear answer for why I grew it out in the first place,” he says, noting that he first began the trend in 1995. “I’ve never liked to get haircuts. I never made appointments to get my hair cut, so it just grew long. At the time, I got a lot of attention for having long hair, and it was fun.”
With almost two decades of long hair, Heinsman is ahead of the curve when it comes to the style, but some high-profile celebrities these days are sporting long hair in ponytails, which have been dubbed “bronytails.” According to urbandictionary.com, a bronytail is “a ponytail sported by a bro.” A cousin to the bronytail is the “male bun,” which basically is a bronytail knotted up on top of the head or on the neck.
Colin Farrell, Chris Hemsworth, Jared Leto and Harry Styles are some of the stars who’ve been sighted in loose buns or ponytails. But in Chattanooga, the nonconservative style on men is few and far between. Local stylist Danny Stevenson says the look is too progressive for our conservative area.
“This fad hasn’t hit Chattanooga,” says Stevenson, owner of Danny Stevenson Salon in Chattanooga.
There are local guys who are already pulling their long hair back into ponytails, not because it’s trendy, but most likely because they don’t want it falling into their eyes, he says.
Chris Burd wears his long hair mostly in dreadlocks, but also pulls it back in ponytails and up in buns. He says having long hair allows more styling options.
“When my locks were shorter, there wasn’t much I could do with it,” says Burd, a 23-year-old graphic design student at Chattanooga State Community College, who says his hair has been long for two years. “I constantly wore hats to cover it, but now that my locks are longer, I can wear it up in a ponytail or bun, braid it or just let it hang on my shoulders.”
Burd says family members and friends support his quirky hairstyles, but he does get mixed reactions from strangers. It’s a practical option for him to wear it pulled back when working at his part-time job at the Signal Mountain Walmart, he says.
“I wear it up in a bun or ponytail at work because it will constantly be in my face if I wear it down while I’m working,” he says.
He particularly enjoys wearing it up in a bun.
“It’s a ‘hybrid look,’ meaning it looks good whether you are dressed up to go to an interview or dressed casual to chill with friends.”
But bronytails and male buns are not looks that every man can pull off, Stevenson says.
“If hair is thin and balding — no,” Stevenson says. “Usually a man has to have thick and beautiful hair to wear it long. If it’s not, they need to cut it; otherwise it’s ugly and makes them look older.”
Zachary Cross has no problem pulling off the look. At 15 years old, he’s got it down pat. A home-schooled high school freshman, Zachary says his hair started growing out at age 12 because, like Heinsman, he didn’t like getting it cut.
“I didn’t like haircuts in the first place,” he says. “I almost never liked the way it looked afterward.”
His parents are OK with the length, he says. “They’re really not against anything except a mullet.
“Some of my friends tell me I need to cut it, but that just inspires me to keep growing it. Beyond that, all reactions I get are basically positive,” he says.
He just recently started wearing it in a ponytail and mostly for convenience, he says, nothing to do with trends..
“I was originally more focused on not being focused on my hair at all, but in present day, it helps me stand out. The vast majority of the guys I know have short to very short hair. And, while that may be best for them, by letting my hair grow, I’ve ended up with something that I like, other people like, and doesn’t need to be cut all the time.”
Nathan Gayle, who wore his hair shoulder length until recently, says long hair on men is basically frowned upon in the South, regardless of what Hollywood dictates. Gayle, 35, is job hunting and feels having shorter hair and a more conservative appearance will help his chances of landing a job.
“Living in the South, a conservative city, I knew that clean cut was the way to go,” he says. “It just seems to me that some people can’t get over the stereotype of long hair — you are either a hippie, metalhead or a long lost relative of ‘Duck Dynasty.’ I was none of them.”
Gayle, who mostly wore his hair in a ponytail when it was longer, says it was never an issue with his family or friends, but he did, sometimes, get negative vibes when out in public.
“I have gotten odd looks from people when I go to church or when I go to a restaurant, and I have noticed now that I have shorter hair, everything seems to be easier, including customer service,” he says.
His short hair will be short-lived, he says, because one day, he’ll wear it long again.
“I know it’s psychological, but long hair seems like a step towards freedom or being independent,” he says.
Chad Russell, 42, a local business owner and licensed minister, says he has worn his hair long off and on for most his life. Currently his hair is long and he typically pulls it back in a ponytail.
“I have never been concerned with trends,” he says, but is considering having it cut to donate to Locks of Love.
Russell says not everyone likes his long hair, and he notices passive/aggressive responses from people who don’t like it.
“It’s not verbal, but I can tell when people don’t like it,” Russell says.
When he gets that vibe, he often responds by telling the person that Jesus is portrayed as having long hair.
“And I’m quickly told that I’m not Jesus.”
Contact Karen Nazor Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6396.
Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...